Stop Motion Studies - Series 13

Stop Motion Studies - Series 13
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In this remix of footage originally shot for previous installments in London, Paris, Boston, New York, and Tokyo, each installment’s modular structure has provided a library of building blocks that have been edited into a linear animation approximately 7 minutes long. The speed of the transitions is based on network connection speed. Thanks to
Dylan Tinlun Chan, Jo-Anne Green, and Helen Thorington. —David Crawford 05.01.04

SMS-13 includes footage from SMS-Tokyo, a 2003 commission of New Radio and Performing Arts, Inc., for its Turbulence Web site. SMS-Tokyo was made possible by a grant from the LEF Foundation.

Artist’s Statement

[This article was developed in conjunction with the Distributed Form: Network Practice symposium held at the University of California, Berkeley 22-24 October 2004.]


The US health care system uses the terms in-network and out-of-network to refer to relationships that exist between insurance companies and doctors. For instance, while physician A may be in-network for me and out-of-network for you, our insurance plans may stipulate just the opposite in regard to physician B; assuming of course, we are not among the 45 million Americans who are uninsured altogether[1].

While doctors may be beyond the reach of our bodies, our minds are all in-network when it comes to media. The consolidation of media companies[2] and explosion of distribution channels (cable and the net) means that we as consumers, targets in advertising-speak, are delivered up to corporate interests on an unprecedented scale. We as citizens have also benefited from the net’s decentralized architecture, yet if we thought we stood to gain something more than a paycheck from pouring our blood, sweat, and tears into it, now (2006) would appear to be the moment of truth.

With attacks on net neutrality[3] on one side and warrantless wiretaps[4] on the other, the net is increasingly under attack as a site of consciousness-raising and political action. Should the balance tip in favor of a corporatism that defines us as targets rather than citizens, we may come to view the net in a primarily Orwellian light. What was once a heterotopic[5] digital commons could just as easily become an always-on panopticon. How are we to preserve our identities as citizens?

If we are to be a “we” and not simply an “I,” we must inhabit places that provide a context for the “we” -- as in “We the People” -- to both recognize each other and make our voices heard[6]. While the street is the prototypical site for the promotion of collective identity and formation of protest, its vibrancy has waned in the face of a network of privatized interests, which have denuded its human potential in favor of the needs of automobiles. Despite the “we” of the street yielding to the “I” of my car, there remains a second site capable of sustaining collective self-awareness in public transit.

Meanwhile, the attacks of 3/11, 7/7, and 7/11 have demonstrated a concerted effort to strike fear into the hearts of citizens who (by necessity or choice) continue to participate in the “we-ness” this form of urbanity affords. It is not without significance that through these terrifying image-events[7], a shared architectural space of mutual self-interest becomes horribly refracted before being fed back to an “I,” who invariably sits alone in front of a screen. Will the architecture of the future consist only of MySpace[8], or can we rescue and protect something we might call our space?

The Body Politic

From 2002 to 2004, I produced thirteen installments of an artwork entitled the Stop Motion Studies (SMS). At first largely formal works exploring digital chronophotography and the subway, they have taken on new meaning amidst the war on civilians[9]. While the SMS project tends to be described in terms of its immateriality, this was never an entirely satisfying paradigm. To call it net art is to suggest that there is such a thing as non-networked art, despite the ubiquity of the net as the underlying architecture of our culture.

Instead, I have preferred to interpret the project from either a cinematographic standpoint, that is, in terms of the relation these algorithmically generated animations have to the history of the moving image; or alternatively, from the standpoint of its socio-political bearing. Looked at from a cinematographic point of view, some relevant questions become: “What happens phenomenologically in the time between two images in a sequence?” as well as “How can algorithmic montage enable us to see in new ways?”

Placing an emphasis upon the SMS project’s pre- and post-cinematic ambitions suggests that while its language is network specific, it remains a form of network practice that takes the net for granted. Regardless, perhaps it is time to push the net specific and cinematographic frameworks into the background and instead foreground the way in which the project provides a window into the vitality of the subway. This, in the face of an unrelenting stream of images that present public transport as a place where bodies are eviscerated and lives cut short.

As I grew up in the suburbs, I was in a unique position to appreciate the subway. Not surprisingly, I found a humanity absent in the shopping malls. While being elbow-to-elbow with strangers can sometimes be unpleasant and even dangerous on the rare occasion, this is also part of what it means to belong to a society; nothing ventured, nothing gained. Conversely, I have seen drivers treat others in ways they would never consider if they were not behind the wheel of a car (being shielded by metal and glass changes you).

One hermeneutic approach to art-making is to see it as a tool. Looked at in this light, it becomes possible to view its production as a dialectic with a unique potential to reveal, instruct, and inspire. For the artist, some relevant questions then become: “What is this work showing me that I had not seen before?” as well as “How can I augment the effect of this tool to maximize its potential?” In this regard, the SMS project has shown me at least two things. First, belonging to a society means belonging to it with your body. Second, it is time to step from behind our screens and reinhabit our citizen bodies before we forget how to be more than consumers. Ironically, this may be the only way to save the net.


[1] To read these statistics in context, see U.S. Census Bureau, “Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2004,” U.S. Census Bureau, August 2005, <> (15 July 2006).

[2] For a concise map of media consolidation, see The Nation, “The National Entertainment State, 2006,” The Nation, 3 July 2006, <> (15 July 2006).

[3] “[T]he guiding principle that preserves the free and open Internet.” See Save the Internet, “Save the Internet: Frequently Asked Questions,” Save the Internet, No date, <> (15 July 2006), What is Network Neutrality?.

[4] “Sometime in 2001, the president authorized the NSA to intercept telephone and Internet communications of Americans inside the United States, without the authorization of any law or court.” See EFF, “ATT-NSA FAQ,” Electronic Frontier Foundation, No date, <> (15 July 2006), What is the NSA Domestic Spying Program?.

[5] “[C]ounter-sites, a kind of effectively enacted utopia in which the real sites, all the other real sites that can be found within the culture, are simultaneously represented, contested, and inverted.” See Michel Foucault, “Des Espace Autres (1967),” trans. Jay Miskowiec, “Of Other Spaces (1967),” Michel Foucault, info, No date, <> (15 July 2006), Heterotopias.

[6] For more on democracy and the street, see Rebecca Solnit, “Democracy should be exercised regularly, on foot,” Guardian Unlimited, 6 July 2006, <,,1813443,00.html> (15 July 2006).

[7] “The image consumes the event, that is, it absorbs the latter and gives it back as consumer goods.” See Jean Baudrillard, “L’Esprit du Terrorisme,” trans. Rachel Bloul, “The Spirit of Terrorism,” Cryptome, 14 November 2001, <> (15 July 2006).

[8] Social networking Web site owned by Rupert Murdoch. See Reuters, “MySpace gains top ranking of US Web sites,”, 11 July 2006, <> (15 July 2006).

[9] “[A] third type of conflict, after “civil war” and “war between nations”: namely, war on civilians; hence, also, the major political importance of the consequences of the (natural or industrial) catastrophic accident and the massive attack (whether anyone claims responsibility for it or not)” (emphasis in original). See Paul Virilio, “Cold Panic,” Cultural Politics 1.1 (2005): 27-30, at 27.

Related Links Biography

David Crawford studied film, video, and new media at the Massachusetts College of Art and received a BFA in 1997. In 2000, his Light of Speed project was a finalist for the SFMOMA Webby Prize for Excellence in Online Art. In 2003, Crawford’s Stop Motion Studies project received an Artport Gate Page Commission from the Whitney Museum of American Art and an Award of Distinction in the Net Vision category at the Prix Ars Electronica. In 2004, he received an MSc from Chalmers University of Technology and taught at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Crawford is currently a PhD candidate studying Digital Representation at the Faculty of Fine, Applied and Performing Arts at Göteborg University in Sweden. His artwork has been featured by the Guardian and Leonardo. His writing has recently been published by Princeton Architectural Press.
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